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Lacking fans and players, Durham Bulls could not play ball

During a normal Fourth of July week in Durham, thousands of locals and out-of-town guests would stream to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch a ballgame and a fireworks show.

This holiday, there will be no game, no sparkles in the sky.

Minor League Baseball on Tuesday cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was widely expected, but the official news was unprecedented in the league’s history.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without minor-league baseball played,” MiLB President & CEO Pat O’Conner said in the press release. 

There were many factors that played a role in this decision, a big one being that Major League Baseball announced that big-league teams would not send players to affiliated minor league teams this summer, making play impossible.

The clincher was the fact that minor league teams across the country cannot welcome crowds into their stadiums in the midst of a pandemic. And teams can’t stay afloat without the money fans bring. 

Back on May 19, the Durham Bulls — the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays —  held a town hall meeting for its season ticket holders, 919 Club members. Team Vice President Mike Birling made it clear then that to have a season, fans were required. 

The MLB makes money from television revenue, but O’Conner estimated that 85 to 90% of revenue for minor league teams depends on what fans spend, from ticket sales to concession sales and parking.

The DBAP holds up to 10,000 fans, but North Carolina — still in Phase 2 of reopening until at least July 17 — does not allow for outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. 

Last year, the Bulls broke the record for their three-game home series attendance, welcoming 35,052 fans over the June 14-16 weekend. 

The cancellation of the Durham Bulls’ season is a huge loss for many, including local vendors that sell popsicles to hotdogs and beer at the ballpark, and the 400 seasonal workers on the Bulls’ payroll.

This week it was the fans who were loudest in their mourning. “Heartbroken that for the first time in more than two decades, I won’t be spending summer nights in this magical place. See you in 2021, @DurhamBulls,” fan Mike Sundheim posted on Twitter.

Fans took to Twitter Tuesday to voice their sadness that the Durham Bulls, like other Minor League Baseball teams, won’t play this summer.

“It doesn’t even seem like summer if you do not get to sit in the heat and humidity in July for Bulls’ baseball. Better safe than sorry,” Ron Martin tweeted. 

The organization had furloughed 55% of its staff back in April, hoping to bring them back in September or early October. Birling said Wednesday morning that he does not anticipate having to furlough any more employees.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the cancellation of the minor league season has also put more than 5,000 players officially out of work for the season. But at least some Bulls’ players will be on baseball teams this summer because MLB teams were allowed to increase their rosters this summer. 

The MLB is set to start training today, July 1, with games resuming later this month. The Rays’ 60-man roster had 31 former Bulls players, including 23 who were on the 2019 teams here in Durham.  

Players who didn’t make a big-league roster will continue to get paid, said Birling. As of right now, seven teams are committed to paying players through Labor Day, what would have been the end of the minor league season. Birling stated that the Rays are committed to paying through July 31.

“I can’t make decisions for the Rays but I would be surprised if they didn’t continue the trend that some of the other teams are doing,” said Birling, on paying MiLB players through the season. 

The last time the Durham Bulls cancelled play was in 1934-35 due to the Great Depression. Now the team enters a new era in history, with high hopes to be back on the mound as soon as next year.

But during an interview Wednesday, Biring made clear that he doesn’t expect next year’s season will be normal either.

“Do I anticipate having 10,000 people in the ballpark next April? No,” Birling said on a phone call Wednesday morning. “I think the virus will still limit us to some sort of percentage of capacity.”

9th Street Journal reporter Daniela Schneider can be reached at daniela.schneider@duke.edu

At top: Photos of Durham Bulls players will stand in for the real thing at Durham Bulls Athletic Park this summer. Photo by Henry Haggart 

Drive is on to get more of Durham counted in 2020 census

Durham County ranks last in the Triangle for its response to the 2020 census, with 56.4% of residents having submitted census forms as of June 28.

During a typical census-taking year, the U.S. Census Bureau would have sent door knockers to find those who have not responded on their own. But with the coronavirus’ unexpected arrival, efforts to count everyone have shifted. 

How many Durham County residents are tallied will dictate many important things in the next 10 years. Public school funding, congressional representation, and millions of federal dollars are some of what is at stake.

For every person uncounted in Durham, the county loses more than $1,600 a year. This amounts to more than $16,000 per person missed over a decade, according to Kate Fellman, co-chair of the Durham Complete Count Committee. 

“It’s really important that we get this right,” said Aidil Ortiz, an East Durham resident and volunteer member of the Durham Complete Count Committee. 

Aidil Ortiz, an East Durham resident and member of the Durham Complete Count Committee, at the recent Juneteenth celebration. 9th Street Journal file photo by Henry Haggart

Census enumerators, better known as census takers, will begin a soft launch next month in six yet-to-be-announced regions, according to the Census Bureau. Each will be trained on social distancing protocol and provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).

Enumerators start by interviewing people in households that haven’t yet responded to the census. The effort to count people experiencing homelessness will begin in September. 

Some communities are harder to count than others during a census. Immigrants, especially those without legal immigration status, Latinx and Black people, non-English speakers, people with low incomes, and people who are homeless tend to be less likely to respond to the census unless someone reaches out, according to Ortiz. 

Ortiz emphasized the need for institutions to leave the four walls of their office and do more than just electronic outreach. With Durham’s ever-growing population, accounting for everyone living here is a top priority.

“Doing distribution of anything is very hard work and taxing, and it carries risk,” Ortiz said. “You have to do the work with more than one mission in mind, to try to be as efficient as possible.” 

Creativity has shaped a lot of the ground effort for getting the word out on the census here, especially with social distancing requirements in effect. 

A Juneteenth car parade in East Durham on June 20 combined a celebration of African American freedom, handouts on coronavirus safety information and masks, voter registration information, and census information.

Local organizers supporting a full count in Durham sent out 1,000 flyers last Friday to food pantries and organizations that provide meals to people in need. These flyers explained how to vote in upcoming elections and how to fill out the census.

Ortiz and other organizers plan to work with grocery stores like Compare Foods and Los Primos to get census flyers in grocery bags and park outreach vans outside the stores.

Local and state groups are publishing messaging in Spanish about the need to answer the census. Source: NC Counts Coalition

Ortiz says that these groups, which include SpiritHouse NC, El Centro Hispano, and My Black Counts NC, are considering replicating the Juneteenth parade in another location if response to the census along the original parade route increases within the next few weeks. 

Outreach at places like neighborhood parades and grocery stores allow people who are local and known in the community to apply their expertise, Ortiz said. Part of this work is myth-busting, especially among people who are suspicious that any information they share could be used against them. 

“People want to know what is going to happen with their information and how it is tracked,” said Ortiz. That includes whether social security numbers or citizenship status are required when answering the census. (They are not.)

The census “is a way of putting in a vote for resources if [you] can’t actually vote,” referring not only to undocumented immigrants, but to young residents and other non-citizens as well, says Ortiz said. 

Due to the new coronavirus outbreak, the deadline to respond to the census has been extended to Oct. 31, 2020. For more information, visit https://census.nc.gov/.  

9th Street Journal Reporter Veronica Niamba can be reached at veronica.niamba@duke.edu

At top: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, participants in the Juneteenth parade encouraging people to fill out the census drove rather than walked the East Durham route. 9th Street Journal file photo by Henry Haggart

Duke germ doctor putting a microscope on COVID-19

When the NFL needed help to stop the spread of the MRSA bacteria in 2013, the league called Dr. Deverick Anderson, a Duke infectious disease specialist, who established new locker room protocols and disinfection routines. Now, Anderson is tackling a bigger problem, helping health care workers combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Anderson, the director of the Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Prevention Program, said his primary concern is making sure that health workers who work with patients who have the virus don’t end up sick themselves. 

Deverick Anderson (Duke University photo)

Anderson received his undergraduate degree from University of North Carolina and later “stumbled down the path” of infection prevention while at the Duke School of Medicine, where he knew he wanted a specialty that focused on the body as a whole, rather than a single organ. He liked focusing on infections because they typically have a cure. He liked the idea of identifying and then eliminating a problem, which led him to infection prevention. 

His research on infection prevention has earned him grants to study infection control in community hospitals, multi-drug resistant organisms, and device-related infections. He led a study that compared four types of hospital cleaning protocols and found those that utilize ultraviolet machines are the most effective. In April, he studied the role of chest imaging in patients with the coronavirus. 

Doctors who have worked with him describe him as unflappable and a great mentor. 

“He’s got a remarkable ability not to show stress and to be fun to be around and work with, regardless of how the day or week is going,” said Dr. Arthur Baker, a Duke assistant professor of medicine who worked with Anderson on the early detection of infection outbreaks in surgical sites. “I think that combination of things has really made him a fantastic mentor for me.” 

Duke Assistant Professor of Medicine Dr. Sonali Advani, who recently published an article with Dr. Anderson titled “Universal masking in hospitals in the COVID19 era,” said, “I left a very good position at Yale to come here just to be mentored by him.” She spoke of how caring he is, setting aside 10 minutes at the end of each mentor session to discuss families, house remodeling, and other things outside of work.

He is nationally known and has been quoted by National Public Radio, The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

So what does the germ doctor advise about the coronavirus? 

He says the prevention measures you’ve heard about are still a good recipe: wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, and frequent hand washing. “I think it’s safe to say that all those together are certainly going to be much more effective than one of them individually,” he said. 

Along with that trifecta of things to protect yourself, Anderson also has a simple mindset for society’s overall approach for the virus: “It is all for one and one for all,” he said. “You’re not just wearing a mask for yourself. You’re wearing a mask for others in your community as well.”

He says you’re more likely to get the virus from another person than from picking it up from a surface. “It’s not a 50 one way and 50 the other. It’s probably much more weighted towards person-to-person.” So should we still be wiping everything down? He says that’s a good precaution, but in-person contact is the most likely way to get the virus.

As a consultant for the NFL, he feels the league has a good foundation for preventing the spread of infection. But the league needs to continue to build on that approach in this new age of the coronavirus. 

He says professional sports teams need to be asking themselves the same question as other businesses: “How can you be innovative about keeping people apart? How can you make sure that people wash their hands routinely or make it easy to do what’s right? And how can you get them to wear a mask? All of those same interventions are going to be useful in athletic training facilities as well.”

As lockdown regulations are loosened, it can be difficult to decide which situations are safe and which are not. Although Anderson can’t tell you which situations are worth the risk, he says, “In the end all of this is about risk-benefit. There is no such thing as a zero risk scenario in our society right now until there is an effective vaccine. . .It is a personal decision about what is considered to be an acceptable risk or the potential benefit that might be reaped.” 

Durham book lovers find no place to browse

Suddenly book browsing has become a hazardous pastime. Durham’s libraries and bookstores have closed their doors, so book lovers have no place to wander through the stacks or pluck an interesting-looking tome off a shelf. 

The Regulator Bookshop, Letters Bookshop and Golden Fig Books have closed their doors. The libraries are open for takeout only. These are challenging times if you want to read the first page of a novel before you buy or check it out. 

The Regulator’s website explains the hesitation: “Rather than setting any date and possibly raising false expectations we will withhold any announcement until we have a firm date.” 

It’s the same for the other stores, which haven’t set a date to reopen. Until they do, the book browsing experience will, like so many things we have come to know, be done through a screen. For now, the smell of freshly printed pages and the satisfying sensation of flipping through a paperback won’t occur until the box arrives by UPS – or you pick it up curbside. 

Golden Fig owner David Bradley, says they’ve been “overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we’ve seen from the community” as they ship books throughout Durham and operate a curbside pick-up service. 

Durham libraries closed their indoor spaces to the public in response to county stay-at-home ordinance, but residents now have two ways to get new books. They can get ebooks through a newly expanded online program, or actual books through a new pick-up service.

Last week the libraries launched a “Take-Out!” book station at every location, a curbside pick-up service much like a restaurant. Book lovers can just order ahead and swing by when the books are ready. 

This virtual inventory has been well received by parents adapting to home schooling, with an increase in kids ebooks and e-audio of 88% from February to March and 55% from March to April . 

For physical materials that had been in limbo since the stay-at-home order, the library system opened up an automatic book return system June 1 outside the newly renovated Main Library at 300 N. Roxboro Street. 

Bradley said that, as the national conversation has shifted, so has the demand for new books. 

The New Jim Crow’, ‘How to Be an Antiracist’, ‘Me and White Supremacy’, and ‘White Fragility’ are so popular they’re now on backorder with publishers,  Bradley said. 

Likewise, Stephanie Bonestell, a spokeswoman for the Durham County libraries, said they also have seen a similar increase in interest with titles related to Black Lives Matter, civil rights, and racism in America.

The interest in books by Black authors has prompted important discussions in Durham.  

“It’s been our story,” said Victoria Scott-Miller, the owner of Liberation Station, a Durham based “Pop-Up” bookstore. Their website says their mission is centered on “making representation accessible and amplifying Black voices.”

As conversation around systemic racism continues throughout the city, many are asking Scott-Miller and her staff how to educate themselves on the Black experience. Liberation Station has updated its website with resources, but Scott-Miller said this is still a time of grieving for many in the Black community.

“This is a moment for you to learn, for you to gather, for you to do the research and understand the impact,” Scott-Miller says to like-minded community members. She says that provides them time “so we can have the conversation but we’re not having to show up both grieving and teaching at the same time.”

Throughout the pandemic, the store has transitioned from hosting pop-up events (which were like a new take on the Scholastic book fairs) to an almost entirely virtual platform that even includes online storytimes. Still, Scott-Miller and her husband, who co-own the business, insist on hand delivering all orders within the city (they wear a mask and gloves). 

Victoria Scott-Miller, owner of the Liberation Station Bookstore, carries a full load of books to deliver in Durham. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

The couple feels that the personal delivery is a way to connect with customers and provide a special experience.  

“There are a lot of children of color that are seeing themselves in these books for the first time,” she said, “we want them to know that they are of value.” 

Their packages are wrapped in chalkboard paper, tied in red twine, and accented with a green notecard — and a handwritten note.

Photo above: Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham remains closed to the public, but the owners have online ordering. Photo by Henry Haggart, The 9th Street Journal

A stroll through Southpoint

The smell of Auntie Anne’s, once unavoidable, is canceled out by the scent of a lemony floor cleaner. Masked shoppers exchange gentle, knowing looks. In the stores and at the kiosks, cashiers attempt to look approachable behind clear plastic register shields. Customers in line to check out are instructed where to stand by stickers marking 6-foot distances. This is Southpoint mall as Durham begins to reopen

In the past two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, beer-loving Durhamites have been enjoying their brews on their front porch, rather than with a game of cornhole at Ponysaurus or Stand-up Comedy at Durty Bull. As the city, along with many parts of the country, move through the phases of reopening, the hiss of a beer can be heard further and further from home — on the East Campus lawn or at Old North Durham Park. But these familiar outings look different, transformed by the social distance dance we all must do as we adapt to the World with the Virus. 

A stroll through the Streets at Southpoint offers a concentrated look at the choreography of this emerging reality. The parking lot, usually buzzing with shoppers hoping to capitalize on Memorial Day sales, has the feel one might expect during a midday visit on a Tuesday. In the quiet lot the dance begins: Is it alright to park right next to another car? Is that violating social distance etiquette? And walking in: Is it still polite to hold the door open for the person behind you? 

To amble around Southpoint is to do this awkward dance, a once-ordinary walk transformed into navigating a minefield that might hide an invisible disease. A pair of teens joke about crossing the tape line of the boarded-up massage chairs outside Macy’s, but they respectfully step to their right as another shopper comes into their radius. This is the dance. Couples share nervous glances when strangers get too close, but everyone works together to pretend at normalcy, making nonchalant conversation with their gloved cashiers as we shift into our new roles as mask-wearers and social distancers. 

A smattering of the stores have made the decision to open up and the new summer collections are the least of their changes. Hollister now requires masks to enter; Aerie gives them away; Macy’s has hand sanitizer stations at the entrances. Urban Outfitters has gone so far as to tape arrows on the floor to provide shoppers with a suggested path, taking you from room decor to hair accessories, to promote social distancing. 

The open retailers skew younger: Forever 21 and H&M. Pink, marketed toward young adults, is still closed, but Talbots, popular with middle-aged women, is in business. 

There’s no skew to the shoppers.  People of all ages wander the mall. Almost everyone travels in pairs; masks muffle the conversation, which makes the place quieter than usual. 

“This area is for sitting, not eating,” reads a paper sign taped to the Streets’ patio furniture. “This too, shall pass,” it adds. 

The sign hints at a return to normalcy, but that day is probably a long way in the future. Restaurants have shifted primarily to pick-up options. Food court favorites like Built (Custom Burgers) and Pholicious are open, but there’s not really any place to sit.

The fountains have gone dry as sculptures of children wait out an invisible storm for the mall to return to normal. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

The dark storefronts have paper signs with vague explanations and a little hope. The AMC Theatre says it is closed “today,” apologizing for the “inconvenience.” Bath & Body Works stresses the safety of their employees in the decision. 

What’s next for these stores? Will they open their doors again soon? Or fold like so many seemingly impenetrable companies taken down by the virus (JCPenney has filed for bankruptcy, while Pier 1 is closing all of its 540 stores)? Are they really holding back out of safety concerns? Financial difficulties? How are their workers holding up without the income? It seems these answers will not be available until “further notice.”

The mall, like Durham, is in a state of transition. The tables at the food court are cordoned off and the fountain outside the movie theatre is drained, like a lake after a drought.  But even so, people are puttering about — attempting to make sense of it all. There is an eeriness to this new world and a guilt to participating in it. How essential is this trip? Who am I putting at risk by making it? These questions lead to the bigger one hanging above Durham, palpable in public spaces like this: Are we ready for Phase 2?

In photo above, seating in the food court has been moved to discourage seating. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

At Bull City Magic, ‘the soul goal’ and a vision of a brighter future

“We’re not like a regular store,” Lynn Swain says, holding a smoking bundle of sage over the flame of one of her shop’s locally sourced vegan candles. 

Tom Swain, her husband and business partner, nods. “We want everyone to feel better when they walk through that door.” 

The door he is referring to opens into the mystical expanse of MagikCraft: Bull City Magic, a metaphysical shop and spiritual safe space just off of 9th Street. The store is owned and operated by the Swains, and its mission is what they call “the soul goal.” 

In what has come to be known as “this uncertain time,” they provide insight, positivity, and a bit of magic to Durham. 

The store is her headquarters as a clairvoyant, a service more pertinent than ever. With our routines and physical lives so starkly interrupted, today is on hold, making questions of tomorrow more pressing. It’s a perfect time to ponder the future. Lynn, a healer, psychic, and medium who also goes by the name MagikCraft, says she has a powerful relationship with energy and the (supposedly) unknown. She reads people and receives messages from the universe, often using crystals or cards as guiding tools. 

These days she is talking with clients over the phone or other virtual platforms, and it’s not just the mode of communication that has changed. She says that many of the inquiries she has received lately have related more to clients’ personal journey and reflection than ever before. That’s an encouraging trend, she believes. Working parents are spending more time with their children, relationships are being reassessed, and careers and passions are being critically evaluated. The shutdown has “put the brakes on, stop and look and listen.” she says. 

In a politically polarized time, the store is focused on offering a safe space to any and all who need it. “We don’t talk about politics here,” Tom says. “It’s not about what you are politically, it’s about your soul,” Lynn adds.

Eye-catching merchandise lines the walls and fills the glass display cases: crystals from every corner of the world—including one from the highest elevation of Tibet—countless tarot decks, lavender soaps, books on destiny or tarot reading, and cast-iron cauldrons. She says 80% of the mystical merchandise is by customer request, from over 40 local vendors. 

Even during a time of social distance, everyone receives a warm (but safe) welcome. This comes in many forms; sometimes it’s Lynn walking a customer around the store on FaceTime to put in a virtual order, other times it’s Tom, who was not “blessed with gifts” of psychic and medium knowledge like his wife and co-operator, but is known for pulling out a book that offers a look at a customer’s destiny based on their birthday and sharing a page or two with them. 

Bull City Magic hosts a range of 32 workshops – from monthly Full Moon Gatherings to Crystal Grid training. Stay-at-home restrictions have moved many of these events to the store’s new YouTube page, but the storefront remains very much in business; after a call to City Hall describing the value of their apothecary inventory and soaps, Lynn said Durham has said they could stay open. 

“We don’t want to just sell stuff,” says Tom, “we want to educate.” 

The couple has been in this space for almost three years, underneath Cosmic Cantina (the enchanted names of the two businesses bear no relation, but there is certainly a bit of Bull City magic in Cosmic’s bean burritos). Before moving to this location, the Swains worked out of a nearby office space to build clientele. 

“You don’t just open a metaphysical shop in the belt of Christianity without testing the waters, ” says Lynn. She has discovered that “Durham is a very mystic space,” but people like to keep that  “on the D.L.” 

Given the name MagikCraft by the universe, Lynn is a seventh generation medium and psychic; the store’s website boasts that by 2019, she had read over 30,000 people. Her many skills are are listed there:

Tarot , Oracle, Crystals, Ruins, Tea Leaves, Palm Reading, Scrying, Channeling, Mediumship, Akashic Records, Bone Throwing, Roots, Herbs, Shamanism, Reiki Master, Candlewax Reading, Fire Magic, Smoke Reading, Multi-Verse Dimensional Messages, God, Goddesses, Angels, Spirit Guides, Ancestor, Aura, Soul Energy, Dream Interpretation, Past Life Regression, Astral Projection along with visions through prophecy, Telekinesis, Psychokinesis, Aerokinesis, Afterlife Communication, AKD- After Death Communication, Healer, Clergy, Teacher, and Practitioner of the Craft.

She became a medium at age 4 and began reading people at age 13.

Besides being a guru of the metaphysical, she is a savvy businesswoman. At the age of 57, her resume includes a degree in mathematics from the University of Delaware and more than 30 years in corporate finance. 

Even in her years in the corporate world, Lynn worked internationally as a reader and healer. It finally became her full time profession when the newlyweds decided to open the shop in 2017. At the start, Tom, who worked previously as an electrician, manned the store during the week while Lynn continued her corporate work. She would then spend time in the store at night and on weekends, working more than 100 hours some weeks. Soon, though, she came to an important conclusion. 

“I realized everything I was saying to my clients I wasn’t doing,” she says.

This was a part of her process of “walking through the portal of fear,” advice she gives clients struggling to commit to their passions or confront the things holding them back spiritually. 

She is now fulfilled — though never finished. “I was blessed by being an insomniac,” she laughs. During the coronavirus slowdown, she and Tom are working on an herb wall, making more services available online, and they are collaborating with a Duke alum on a podcast. 

They opened a second location to host magical meet-ups: a Kava, espresso, crystal, and sage cafe between Durham and Hillsborough called Magic on 70. The cafe boasts coffee flavors with mystical namesakes, such as “Thoth: God of the Written Word.” Just as one might expect, this carries notes of “Vanilla, Dark Chocolate and Cranberries.” 

But alas, the website informs customers that for “the health and safety of our magical tribe,” the new shop is closed temporarily, although spiritual sessions are still available through virtual appointment with Lynn. 

Like all of us, they are learning to adapt. 

Lynn wears a purple mask around the store, and it nicely accents the lavender walls and the 700 pounds of amethyst crystal near the tarot cards. The store sells masks like hers in a variety of colors.  

“Mother Earth has put us in timeout and we need to self reflect,” Lynn says. She doesn’t expect things to ever return to “normal,” but feels this forced re-evaluation has some positive and powerful elements. She is hopeful for the future, a reassuring thing to hear from a psychic. 

People are taking this time to explore their  spiritual realm, whatever that realm maybe, which she says is “a human reset on a core level.” 

She smiles. “Positive energy is contagious.” 

Above, Tom and Lynn outside of Bull City Magic. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone | The 9th Street Journal

Mothers & Sons is closed, but owner stays linked to local food scene

On Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all bars and restaurant dining rooms to shut their doors. While this order was definitive, its consequences were far from simple. Josh DeCarolis, chef and owner of Mothers & Sons Trattoria in downtown Durham, had decisions to make and options to weigh.

DeCarolis faced the only two choices restaurants had then: Remain open with drastic limitations, or shut down until further notice. Neither was desirable and both would have far reaching consequences for owners, employees, and the local economy. 

Restaurants were permitted to offer takeout and delivery orders, but DeCarolis concluded that wasn’t viable for Mothers & Sons. It would be impossible to do enough business with takeout orders alone to sustain the restaurant and its staff, he said.

Even if running on takeout and delivery orders made economic sense, the risk would likely not be worth the reward. “We thought that the decision to try and completely pivot our business model was just going to make things difficult, and put people in danger unnecessarily. Our biggest concern as business owners and citizens is to be safe,” he said.

In late 2015, DeCarolis spent four months in Italy learning pasta making techniques. He opened Mothers & Sons in 2016. The restaurant became a staple for customers who crowded inside to order homemade pasta and other Italian dishes. 

Before it closed, Mothers & Sons had a staff of around 40 people that DeCarolis described as a huge, close family. He was forced to lay off everyone. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” DeCarolis said, “but there’s just not much we can do about it. Certainly, once the door is closed, there’s no way we can pay anybody.”

DeCarolis has worked in restaurants his whole adult life. Before opening Mothers & Sons, he was the head chef at Mateo Bar de Tapas next door. With years of experience dealing with food safety and food borne illnesses, he understands what protocols to follow if a chef or a staff member becomes sick. 

But the outbreak of COVID-19 was an unprecedented challenge for DeCarolis. “This is way above my pay grade,” he said, “I’m listening to what the experts say.”

Closing Mothers & Sons affected more than the chefs and servers who found themselves filing for unemployment. When a restaurant shuts down, a chain reaction reaches farms and suppliers large and small. 

Mothers & Sons relied on some larger distributors for kitchen staples, but it also bought fresh ingredients from many local farms. “It’s really a shame,” DeCarolis said, “These small farms rely on our business and we rely on them, and we’ve been forced to put everything on hold.”

The dining room shut down has inspired new offerings in Durham’s shrunken food scene. One is an Alimentari pop up shop in Lucky’s Delicatessen, promoted here on Instagram.

In addition to Mothers & Sons, DeCarolis is an owner at the Alimentari at Left Bank butchery in Raleigh. The shop is a partnership with the Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, a village west of town with a vibrant food scene. The Raleigh shop is open part time and does business largely through pre-orders and curb side pick up.

Although Alimentari is a smaller venture than DeCarolis’ primary restaurant, these days he’s been putting more energy into keeping it open and running. To try and support his smaller suppliers, DeCarolis has been purchasing ingredients that he’d normally buy for Mothers & Sons to use at Alimentari instead. 

Like formerly full-service restaurants braving the storm with takeout and delivery services, Alimentari has changed. The butcher shop is open only four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday. Only one customer is admitted at a time. 

Alimentari’s staff was not spared from layoffs either. Initially staff was trimmed to just one essential employee. Since then, they were able to hire back four more employees, DeCarolis said.

Some unexpected good has come out of this difficult situation, DeCarolis said. Some staff previously employed at Mothers & Sons are now making school lunches for Durham public schools as part of FEAST, the charity program organized to feed children in need throughout Durham County. 

Mothers & Sons supplies food and kitchen space to prepare the lunches. Former Mothers & Sons employees receive some compensation for their work, but DeCarolis has not been able to rehire them.

The COVID-19 era has also brought an unexpected expansion for Alimentari. A pop up shop called Alimentari at Mothers & Sons opened May 7 in the place of another next-door neighbor: Lucky’s Delicatessen on West Chapel Hill Street. The pop up is open Thursdays through Saturdays and sells fresh produce and Italian goods.

“We’ve only been open a week, but it’s been pretty encouraging,” DeCarolis said, “A lot of people from the community have come out.”  

DeCarolis says he finds a silver lining in being able to be there for his Alimentari customers and continuing to build trust and goodwill. “People are really thankful and grateful to be able to get quality meat and fresh pasta, without having to go out to a crowded, big box grocery store,” he said.

Trust and goodwill may be a saving grace after Gov. Roy Cooper allows dining rooms, with new limitations, to reopen on or after May 22. Almost all restaurants will be in a difficult position after having to shut down or downscale for so long. Support from customers now and in coming months is vital, said DeCarolis, who intends to reopen Mothers & Sons. 

“We’re keeping a close eye on what the state government is saying, and we’re hoping to open back up safely as soon as possible,” he said, “I can’t predict when that will be.”

DeCarolis praised Durham for being a strong community, particularly among restaurant owners,workers, and customers. 

“We’re all trying to navigate this together,” DeCarolis said, “We’re working as a community, but the long and short of it is that everybody, big and small, is going to need some help.”

At top: Not long ago Mothers & Sons was one of Durham’s most vibrant downtown restaurants. Photo by Corey Pilson 

 

On Ninth Street, Happy + Hale offers to-go fare and ‘kindness’

On a Sunday in March, Duke University student Olivia Stohrer arrived at Happy + Hale ready to work another dinner rush.

After tucking her bun under a signature green hat, she saw what had become familiar: customers crowding the order line and filling cafeteria-style tables.

Within two weeks, those tables would stand empty. Bottles of hand sanitizer and buckets of disinfectant would appear. And Stohrer’s job would be gone.

After Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all restaurants to suspend dine-in operations on March 17, Durham’s lively restaurant scene was thrown into chaos. Many of the city’s 400 eateries had to recreate themselves or close.

Happy + Hale turned to curbside delivery and pickup orders, but the revenue doesn’t match that of sit-down service. The immediate impact for the cafe was a 90% decrease in business across its locations as of March 22, according to CEO and founder Tyler Helikson.

 “We’ve never seen anything like this,” Helikson said.“A lot of restaurant jobs will be lost because of this, unfortunately permanently.”

While Durham restaurants are suffering in their own ways, many share the loss of key customers: Duke University students and staff. Just a walk away from East Campus and many off-campus apartments, Happy + Hale’s Ninth Street location is a hot spot among the Duke community.

On any given day, 50% to 60% of customers were Duke students before the coronavirus outbreak, Helikson said. Happy + Hale’s business fluctuated with Duke’s social calendar. “If there’s a Duke game, then our business goes down during the hours of the game,” Stohrer said.

As restaurants scramble to break even in a world of social distancing, payroll is often the first cost to cut. While Happy + Hale Durham transitioned from 13-hour weekdays to limited service hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., more than half of the employees lost their jobs, Helikson said. And a smaller staff’s hours were reduced by more than half.

Cutting jobs was painful for Helikson because it broke apart a tight-knit co-worker group established over years, he said. In March he wrote a heartfelt letter to the “Happy + Hale Family” detailing the tough changes ahead.

“My heart is breaking thinking about all of you who come in every day and give everything you have to make our communities happier and healthier,” Helikson wrote. “We have an extraordinary team of leaders in this company who stop at nothing to keep us moving forward. There’s no other way to say it — this time is different.”

To ease some of the hardship, Helikson promised to reinstate employees’ jobs if the business reopens as normal. He also offered assistance with filing for unemployment and help with emergency food, financial or shelter needs, he said.

Happy + Hale has delivered meals to hospitals and medical practices during the coronavirus outbreak, generating praise when it posts photos like this on Instagram.

Patty Davis, a Happy + Hale shift manager, is one of seven employees who kept his job. As a full-time employee, Davis worked over 40 hours per week before the epidemic, but shifted to 20 hours a week, at most, after it started.

Right away, the difference in Davis’s paycheck was palpable. Like many of his co-workers, he planned to file for partial unemployment to recover lost income. Yet, the high volume of filings caused the state unemployment website to crash, making it difficult for Davis and many others to submit an application.

Amid the rapid changes, Davis took on various impromptu roles. Some days he’s a delivery driver, other days he’s on dish duty, and still other days he helps in the kitchen. The most difficult adjustment has been the loss of his work community. “I really see them as my family, everyone was super tight,” he said. “I guess we still are, but you know, you don’t see these people anymore.”

Stohrer, who worked the counter at Happy + Hale, misses a steady paycheck too. But like Davis, she misses the people she worked with the most. She misses the staff meetings when Helikson would treat everyone to burgers and drinks at a local bar. She misses the hours spent ranting to her co-workers about school problems that would somehow alleviate her stress by the end of the night.

“You know how people say at college, ‘Go join a club, find your people,’” Stohrer said. “Happy + Hale was one of those things for me where I had these really cool people that I worked with, and it felt like a community.”

The National Restaurant Association has warned that $225 billion could be lost within the restaurant industry countrywide between March and June. Five to seven million jobs could be eliminated.

Recently, Cooper launched a three-phase plan to reopen North Carolina businesses. Starting May 8, phase one reopened many retail shops. However, limited dine-in services won’t be permitted until phase two, to begin May 22 at the earliest.

One sign that Happy + Hale is hanging on came on May 11, when its Durham store expanded hours to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Even as Durham restaurants are strained by the crisis, many are doing what they can to help others. Happy + Hale promoted the Triangle Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, a project raising money for restaurant staff who have lost wages due to the coronavirus.

Happy + Hale also added a Kindness Bowl option to the menu at its Durham restaurant and North Hills Raleigh restaurant, enabling customers to purchase a $5 rice bowl donated to frontline hospital staff. Customers responded quickly.

“Because of your generosity we’ve been able to deliver over 800 Kindness Bowls to various hospitals in our communities and still have several hundreds to go,” read a Happy + Hale Instagram post on April 3.

Local partnerships help feed families during pandemic

On April 16, the Durham Public Schools Foundation, Food Insight Group, and the Durham Hotel began providing breakfast and lunch to local students in a new partnership called Durham FEAST. 

The announcement came after Durham Public Schools struggled to maintain a safe food distribution program.

Durham Public Schools had been offering free meals to students since March 23. But after learning that an employee at Bethesda Elementary School had contracted the coronavirus, the school system discontinued the program in early April.

Local families didn’t know where their next meal would come from. So several organizations stepped up. 

The DPS Foundation, a community-led nonprofit that supports the school system, took on the bulk of student food distribution. It ramped up its weekly food delivery program to deliver meals to 1,500 families, and then joined the Durham FEAST initiative.

A Riverside High School senior Elijah King also offered his own solution, partnering with local businesses to start the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative. They set up shop in front of Geer Street Garden and distribute sandwiches. 

And Catholic Charities and Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina continue their food pantries.

They don’t know how long school cafeterias and local restaurants will be closed, but these distribution services anticipate working for the long haul. 

“In any instance when something like the coronavirus is happening in Durham, the community comes together,” said King. “It’s like New York, but on a very small scale.”

A community FEAST

As Durham FEAST launched its partnership on Thursday, thousands of Durham families flocked to DPS schools — while staying six feet apart — to pick up free breakfast and lunch from Durham restaurants. The provisions are meant to serve all children under 18 years old for several days. 

The Restaurant at The Durham, Monuts, Spicy Green, Southern Harvest Catering, and Beyu Caffe were first to offer meals. Kids may have a buckle streusel, a banana muffin, or overnight oats for breakfast. Lunch options included quinoa chicken or vegetarian spinach alfredo pasta. Family-style casseroles and shelf ingredients were also available. 

Depending on the location, pick-ups are on Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays. Some locations open at 11 a.m. and others at 12 p.m. Volunteers drive meals to families that are unable to pick up food.

“The main thing that we need right now is even more volunteers, especially with the new announcement,” said Katie Spencer Wright, communications manager for the DPS Foundation.

Over 900 volunteers pitched in during the DPS Foundation’s previous program, including Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull and Durham City Council members Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero.

“Everyone is happy to be out of the house and enjoying working together on this, which is what we need to do,” said Spencer Wright. “We need to have each other’s backs.” 

Community donations are also essential to support the ongoing program. Funds go toward meals and paying restaurant employees’ wages.

Over 1,100 Durham community members have donated funds to the meal program. Mayor Steve Schewel announced he’d match all donations up to $10,000 to the previous initiative. Durham songwriter and DPS dad Hiss Golden Messenger pledged all proceeds from his new record to the meal effort. (Spencer Wright says it’s “great quarantine music.”)

Federal school meal funding and Durham County also back the initiative.

A student-run initiative

As the coronavirus escalated in Durham, King, a Riverside High School senior, became concerned about small businesses. He wondered how he could support local restaurants while addressing community food shortages.

He presented a couple ideas to friends and businesses: An ad campaign? Business partnerships?

“Everyone shot them down,” he said.

Then, he thought of Grant Ruhlman, the owner of Homebucha Kombucha. Ruhlman had heard King speak at a climate strike and told King to reach out if he ever needed help.

Together, Ruhlman and King decided to work with local businesses to provide free lunches. Homebucha Kombucha, Lil Farm, and Geer Street Garden joined in the effort, which they named Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative.

Every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they set up outside Geer Street Garden and distribute about 100 meals. Community members wait for food, standing in distanced lines and listening to amplified music. 

Lunch selections vary day-by-day, including pimento cheese, turkey, or BLT sandwiches. Sides may be yogurt, bread, fresh fruit, or veggies.

The initiative runs on monetary donations to provide food from the farm and restaurants. 

Within a week of announcing the initiative, their GoFundMe campaign burgeoned, reaching nearly $35,000 in donations. That would cover sandwiches, masks, water bottles, and four employees’ wages for a couple weeks. 

“But as soon as we pay all of the bills this week, that money is going to be gone,” King said. 

He needs to raise more money to keep the initiative running until May 15. If he runs into trouble, he’ll consider decreasing the production cost of meals.

“No matter what, we are going to continue paying living wages. That’s what they made before, and that’s what they’re going to be making,” King said.

Other resources

Local food banks continue offering meals and accepting donations during the pandemic.

The Durham Community Food Pantry reopened April 10 after issuing new guidelines to protect volunteers and clients from the virus. The pantry, run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, operates from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As of April 9, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina had distributed 11,132 boxes of 20 meals each during the coronavirus outbreak. They operate in a 34-county region and work with local nutritionists to determine needs.

At top: Volunteers distribute meals at Glenn Elementary School as part of a new DPS Foundation initiative to address food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Corey Pilson, The 9th Street Journal

Virtual arts and exercise classes offer innovation and community

At the end of class at Empower Dance Studio, director Nicole Oxendine tells her students to unmute their Zoom sound. They extend their arms to the sides of the screen, as if holding hands in their usual “empower circle.” 

“That’s our connection, that’s like our church. Faith is ingrained in everything we do,” Oxendine says.

They “tendu” their right foot toward the camera — even though it may not fit in the video frame.

Oxendine counts to three and the students yell “empower.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Oxendine will teach dance over Zoom. Her studio is among other Durham arts and exercise studios that recently made the switch. It has required many adaptations: bathrooms with tile floors have become tap-dancing studios. Sneakers have replaced blocks in yoga classes. iPhone cameras have sufficed for photography workshops. 

They’re temporary fixes, but the Zoom classes help Durham maintain its artsy flair during a trying time. Durhamites stay connected virtually as local businesses try to stay afloat. 

Dance like Zoom is watching

March 21 was the first day of what Oxendine called the “testing” period for online dance classes. Her studio started with a “Tiny Tots” Zoom class for 2 year olds.

She’s optimistic that students will continue taking classes. Despite the quick transition to online dance, class attendance remained above 50%.

Still, she said, “we don’t know what the final (financial) repercussions are going to be.”

Oxendine held a Facebook Live meeting to update parents about creative modifications for dancing at home.

Bathrooms with tile floors have become tap-dancing studios. Kitchen chairs make decent ballet barres. “And if there’s an across-the-floor combination, we recommend you try it outside,” she said. 

It’s not only a question of staying in shape and maintaining dance technique. Empower Dance Studio teachers also want to reinforce the studio’s values over Zoom.

“Faith is a core value of Empower. We have faith in ourselves, we believe in ourselves” she said. “You have your own power, you have your sense of agency, and you have a gift.”

Still, faith has been difficult to cultivate over Wifi. Oxendine hopes to encourage faith and community by allowing dancers to lament about the coronavirus or share their stay-at-home experiences. She’ll ask them about their homework or TV shows they’ve been watching. 

“These kids, they have anxiety around what’s happening now, too. I tell the teachers to take a minute to check and sit and be present with them,” she said.

‘A la carte’ yoga

Though the online yoga scene has been growing for a while, Yoga Off East founder Kathryn Smith hadn’t thought her studio would join in. 

But once the coronavirus outbreak began, customers started reaching out to Smith, saying they’d pay for online classes. One yoga instructor offered to share her Zoom account. 

Fifty customers signed up for the studio’s first online yoga class on March 21. 

Classes have taken new forms. Music is optional because Zoom’s sound quality is unreliable. Students can choose whether to use video, enabling them to opt for the instructor to correct their movements over the screen or not. 

“There’s an a la carte menu of options that people don’t typically have,” Smith said. 

Students can do prop-free yoga, or they can try household substitutions: a sneaker for a block, a pillow for a bolster, and a towel for a mat. 

It’s been going well enough that Smith is considering making online classes a new staple for Yoga Off East. 

“Our 9th Street community, we have people traveling for work constantly,” she said. “I always see us as a small neighborhood studio, but it looks like we will be moving in the direction of expanding our online offerings.” 

Smith is appreciative that her customers have wanted to take online classes. But she misses the community-building element of meeting in-person. 

“(Online classes) meet the needs of alternative ways to feel connected and not get sucked into isolation,” she said. “But the energy of an in-person class is really irreplaceable.”

A new perspective

Last year, Martha Hoelzer offered photography lessons during a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland, that focused on spirituality beyond organized religion.

“I was teaching components of using photography as a means to delve deeper spiritually,” said Hoelzer, who runs A Breath of Fresh Air Photography.

She was set to teach photography again in April at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC. Now, she’ll offer a photography workshop over Zoom on Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m. 

Students will take photos from different perspectives in their homes, maybe standing on a chair or crouching behind a couch. She anticipates they’ll use iPhones, Androids, and iPads: that’s how it was in Scotland.

Photography student captures images while quarantining in her home. Photo contributed by Sienna Smith

While part of the upcoming class will teach smartphone semantics, she wants to focus more on “composition and challenging people to think about their perspectives.” She’ll also encourage each student to share 10 or 20 recent photos they’ve taken as a way to facilitate discussion and inspiration. 

Hoelzer is no stranger to self-isolating. She’s gone through multiple severe concussions — two since 2016 — and has recently been working on a photography project about brain injuries called What Lies Beneath.

She compares the concussion experience to quarantining. 

“What we’re doing now isn’t that unsimilar to what I’ve had to do off and on over the last four years. Minus the fact that you can’t enjoy things like cooking because somebody whose brain is injured might not be able to follow the directions,” she said. “You can’t watch TV, or you can’t read a book.”

Hoelzer hopes that as students crouch to get a new perspective for their photograph, they may also gain a new perspective on quarantining and the coronavirus.

“Let’s reframe the current situation of what we’re having to face,” she said. “Turn lemons into lemonade or whatever.”

At top: Yoga Off East students finish a Zoom class in Namaste pose. Photo contributed by Kathryn Smith